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Secrets of the best enterprise Wi-Fi networks revealed

Wireless LAN leaders consistently enforce security policies, prioritize traffic

By , Network World
August 12, 2009 03:50 PM ET

Network World - A just released Aberdeen Group research report identifies the steps taken by best-in-class enterprise IT groups to create secure, pervasive, manageable, reliable, high-performance Wi-Fi networks.

The highest scorers in the new study had aggressive growth in Wi-Fi coverage and traffic, and a big drop in network downtime, indicating a more stable network on which users increasingly rely, according to Andrew Borg, senior research analyst with the wireless and mobility practice at Aberdeen, a technology research and consulting firm in Boston. "These best-in-class enterprises are holistic in approaching what they conceive of as a strategic enterprise asset," Borg says.

How to optimize your Wi-Fi network  

These enterprises no longer see a Wi-Fi network as a convenience that's casually overlaid on the wireline infrastructure, and managed on an ad hoc basis. Instead, the  best-in-class companies adopted an array of proactive tactics, technologies and procedures to achieve big gains in performance and security, creating a reliable network with optimal throughput. The tactics included:

* Boosting Wi-Fi capacity by several possible means.

* Consistently enforcing wireless security policies.

* Identifying and prioritizing business-critical wireless traffic.

These tactics had specific benefits for users, according to respondents in this top group, which comprised 20% of the 143 enterprises surveyed by Aberdeen earlier this year. The user benefits identified by the best-in-class group included: easier access from more locations to enterprise data, improved productivity, a jump in customer satisfaction, faster decision making and greater collaboration.

The report, "Wireless LAN 2009" (registration required), was based on an extensive Web-based survey combined with in-depth follow-up phone interviews with a subset of respondents.

Participate in Aberdeen's IT survey on the issues and challenges of multi-site WLANs

Generally, the top performers also were much more likely to have centralized Wi-Fi management, a wireless intrusion detection/prevention system, bandwidth limitations and priorities for applications and users, and spectrum analyzers for continuously designing and configuring the network.

Each of these systems or products was itself part of a comprehensive scheme for each broader area. For the best-in-class shops, RF spectrum analyzers go hand in hand with procedures and schedules to make use of them, along with site survey software to map fluctuations, identify trouble spots and plan infrastructure changes. Intrusion-blocking systems were more likely for this group to be part of regular site assessments of security vulnerabilities, IT staff security training and certification, and security awareness education for users.

Burning questions for enterprise mobility and wireless

These interrelated, proactive measures enable the best-in-class companies to achieve dramatic improvements, especially compared with companies that take a more fragmentary, ad hoc approach, according to Borg.

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